Monday, August 29, 2011

Ocean Air

7:07 AM, Temp 52.1 °F, Dew Pt 50.7 °F, Barometer 30.04 in, Wind Calm, Humidity 95%

Meteorologists call it a marine push, but around here, we refer to it as "ocean air."  Both terms seem to clarify the process.  Cool, moisture-laden air from the Pacific will move inland overnight.  In our case, the Strait of Juan de Fuca provides a direct pathway from the ocean.  Recall that if the humidity approaches 100% and the difference between the air temperature and dew point is less than 4 °F/2.5 °C, fog can form in the air mass.  Generally calm and stable, cool, foggy mornings are common during the summer here.

If the system is weak, as the sun rises and warms the air, the fog will begin to dissipate.  Typically, by around 10:00 AM, the fog and overcast will have given way to blue skies and warming temperatures.  This is the pattern that characterized the past weekend.  Sometimes the vanishing fog will reveal stubborn cool spots over the water:

1:01 PM, Temp 66.7 °F, Dew Pt 57.4 °F, Barometer 30.07 in, Wind 4 mph WSW, Humidity 72%:

The pattern continues today, but the system appears to be stronger than it was over the weekend.  Partly to mostly cloudy skies will most likely persist through the day.  Although these conditions are not the best for growing tomatoes, the stuff that grows here naturally thrives in them.  Cool, foggy summer mornings are part of the nature of the Pacific Northwest.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pacific Northwest Bloggers Scavenger Hunt

Join us on Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 09:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time (16:00 GMT) for a Northwest Nature Blog Scavenger Hunt.  The Pacific Northwest region of North America is known for spectacular scenery and a diverse natural world.  We also produce some pretty great nature blogs.

Our host will be Patricia K. Lichen, author of Kidnapping the Lorax.  At the appointed time, Patricia will post questions along with a list of blogs where the answers will be found.  The deadline for submitting answers will be midnight PDT, Sunday, July 28, 2011.  The winner of a random drawing of correct answers will receive an autographed copy of Kidnapping the Lorax.

To find the questions and instructions for submitting answers, check into at 09:00 AM PDT on Saturday, August 27, 2011.  Get to know the natural world of the Pacific Northwest along with some terrific local bloggers.  We'll look forward to meeting you there.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Autumn Arrived Today

2:10 PM, Temp 62.6 °F, Dew Pt 60.5 °F, Barometer 29.90 in, Wind 6 mph SE G 15, Humidity 93%

Though the equinox is still a month off, autumn arrived today on South Fidalgo Island.  The evidence is gray skies, breezy winds, a light rain and a bit of chop on the bay.  After almost a month of sunshine and drought, a weather system moved in delivering the first measurable rainfall since July 25th.  While the Pacific Northwest seems to be known for its rainy weather, in July and August we are actually drier than most other parts of the US.  Seattle's annual rainfall of 38 inches/97 cm is only an inch more than the US national average.  By my reckoning, South Fidalgo is averaging about 21 inches/53 cm annually at the edge of the Olympic Rain Shadow.

The classic "Indian Summer," warm, sunny weather after a frost doesn't occur here.  We may not get frost until December, or even January in some years.  Unofficially, our Indian Summer comes after the first blustery, rainy day and that is happening today.

The term "leaden sky" may have originated in the Northwest.  If not here, it was probably the UK where the weather and climate are very similar.  I am told that artists actually appreciate the even, glare-free, shadowless light here, especially in the winter.  If the rest of August continues as it usually does, we will see a change in the light from now on.  Even sunny days will have a different, more fall-like quality.

There are more signs of fall in the neighborhood.  Driving home from town this morning, I noticed the Bigleaf Maples, Red Alders and Indian Plum leaves are starting to turn yellow.  The Madronas in my yard are dropping last year's leaves with a vengeance.  It is still comfortably warm, but fall is definitely in the air.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Walking the Garden

Daylily Hemerocallis 'Whimsical'
We spend time weeding the garden, planting the garden, digging the garden or doing whatever in the garden.  Sometimes it is easy to forget to just look at the garden and see what's going on there.  I had the day off today, so I took the opportunity to do just that, walk around and take a good look at everything.

This has been a tough spot for gardening.  The soil is glacial and depending on the location, can be hardpan, sand or mucky clay.  All of it is rocky and dry as dust in the summer.  Two plants that seem to do well here are Daylilies and Cranesbill or true Geraniums.  I have decided to plant more Daylilies and Cranesbill in the worst problem spots.  'Whimsical' is a new Daylily just planted this year.

Cranesbill Geranium 'Rozanne' 
We have a native Geranium, usually regarded as a weed,  that is indigenous to the property.  This may explain why the cultivated varieties do well here.  If you are wondering what to plant in your yard, look around and take a hint from what grows in it naturally.

Daylily Hemerocallis 'Stella de Oro'
Agastache 'Grape Nectar'
I am trying Agastache or Mexican Hyssop this year because of its reputed drought tolerance.  The acid test will be whether it comes back up next year.

Lobelia 'Complement Deep Red'
While I was taking these pictures, I heard a woman's voice from above me, "hello, hello."  It repeated two more times, "hello, hello."  There were no people around, but there was a pair of crows on the neighbor's garage roof watching me.  When I answered them back they flew off.  There are always many interesting things going on in the garden.

Shasta Daisy "Schneehurken'
I had barely stepped into the yard when I heard a distinctive "chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck-chuck" coming closer.  I knew it was the call of Pileated Woodpeckers and it sounded like they were coming into the yard.

Sure enough, first one arrived, then his companion followed.  They first they flew high into an adjacent tree, then crossed over to the Birdcam tree.  They used an interesting technique to lower themselves to the suet.  Remaining upright, they backed down like a descending elevator.  They did it so quickly, it was another demonstration of their acrobatic prowess.  They were also synchronized as in an Olympic event.  Note that these are not Birdcam photos.  These are from the DaveCam, hand-held with a long zoom.  I think the fellow on the right is a juvenile male because of his more frizzy, scraggly look.  I have yet to see a female Pileated visiting the suet.  This is the first time I have seen two together.

Last year's leaves are now dying on the Madronas.  They will be dropping off over the next month or so,  but the new leaves will stay on the tree all winter.  This tree marks the entrance to the shade garden:

The east end of the shade garden gets morning and midday sun, where a small patio offers a place to sit down.  The afternoons are shady here.  The best way to watch wildlife is to sit quietly and let it come to you.  I have had deer come within yards of me sitting on that bench.

Oregon Oxalis (O. oregana)
I was pleased to discover that the Oxalis I had in the shade garden is slowly starting to come back.  Recall that it had all been poisoned and weed-eaten by the landscape crew who were doing my yard maintenance.  That crew was fired and the landscaper has replanted the ground covers that were destroyed.  This particular plant, however, is a survivor of the vandalism.  It will still take several years for them to recover to their original state.  I have not yet gotten past my anger.  That will probably take as long as the recovery of the garden.

The bare ground on either side of this path had been carpeted with Oxalis and Sweet Woodruff.  Most of the plants in this area are natives, or like the Rhododendrons, relatives of native plants.  The Rhododendrons and Red Currant provide a burst of blooming in the spring.  This is a green oasis the rest of the year.

Across the driveway from the shade garden is a grove of Rhododendrons growing in the understory of mature Douglas Firs.  It's a bit like a secret garden.  You can't really tell what's in there from the outside.  You must go inside to see what's happening.

Another pleasant discovery is finding native Mahonias and Salal coming up in the grove among the Rhododendrons.  Both Salal and Mahonia nervosa grow wild all over this end of the island.  The taller Oregon Grape (M. aquifolium) also likes to grow in the sunnier spots.

I am very fond of Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) and the one in this photo got off to a slow start.  I am pleased to find this 'Sango Kaku' or Coral Bark Maple looking so good now.  In a shady spot, its yellow-green leaves stand out.  In the fall they will turn bright yellow.  Once established, Japanese Maples are surprisingly tough and tolerant of poor conditions, even some drought.  Just give them a little babying in the beginning and they'll take care of the rest.  This one will eventually be 15 to 25 feet tall.

Another surprise was finding leaf lichens growing with the moss in the path between flagstones.  The only other place I have seen this lichen is in Deception Pass State Park.  Perhaps I brought the spores home with me after a visit.

In the front yard, Lady Ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) come up wild in a stone wall.  These are more than waste high this year, probably because of the wet spring we had.  Western Sword Ferns (Polystichum munitum) also come up wild among the stones.  I have left specific instructions to the yard crew to leave them alone.

Rhododendrons are now setting buds on the new growth for next year's bloom.  Can you name the family to which this Rhody belongs?  The identifying feature is the powdery indumentum on the new growth.  The answer is at the end of the post.

All of the maples in the yard are at their best right now.  This one is a native Vine Maple (Acer circinatum).  The next is a closeup of the Coral Bark Maple and the last one is the Full Moon Maple (Acer japonicum 'Vitifolium')  that I planted last year.

I hope you enjoyed this late summer walk around my garden.  Now take a walk around yours.  Look closely and see what might have gone unnoticed before.

Were you able to identify the Rhododendron?  The species R. yakushimanum from Japan and all of its hybrids have a unique, powdery fuzz on the undersides of their leaves.  The new growth also sports this "indumentum" temporarily.  If you spot a Rhody with this fuzz, you can bet it's one of the "Yaks."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Promise of Summer

05:42 AM, Temp 54.0 F, Dew Pt 51.4 F, Barometer 30.00 in, Wind Calm, Humidity 91%

It was starting to look like a year without a summer for us.  While other parts of the country were suffering under heat waves, the Pacific Northwest was getting overcast, cold and drizzle.  In fact, July 25th was the darkest overcast day we had seen in the last four months.  Recall that I also mentioned how slowly spring seemed to be arriving as well.  Now that August is here, perhaps our summer is finally making an appearance.  The sunrise this morning showed great promise for a beautiful day.  Yesterday was magnificent:

This late afternoon view towards Saratoga Passage revealed clear skies and calm winds.  Today was a little breezier and it took a little longer to clear off, but eventually we had another nice day:

Weather Statistics for July, 2011

TemperatureHigh 75.4° FLow 46.4° FMean 57.4° F
Rainfall0.94 inches
WindHigh 21 mphAverage 1.3 mphDom Dir SW

Observed at South Fidalgo Island (See Climate page for complete climatological data)